Remember pay phones? Those things on the street you used to put change in when you got a beep on your pager. Those dinosaurs of the communication world are still around... for now. They are getting removed one by one (or often a few parts at a time).
In December 2011, I started documenting the pay phones around Los Angeles. It started out as a joke of sorts. I thought it would be ironic to start an instagram account, @payphones, and take pictures of these public landlines with my mobile phone. I started on Hollywood Blvd. where the pay phones are still on every block, usually on both sides, and the booths have a lot of character. Some are littered with trash, others have smashed handsets, and the rest are a combination of both.
I soon expanded my search area. Not being a native Californian but a Chicago transplant, exploring different neighborhoods has been one of the best parts of this project. Venturing outside of Silver Lake and Hollywood I found a lot of pay phones in Compton, Inglewood, Santa Monica, Downtown L.A., Eagle Rock, and all over East L.A. Most of the pay phones look the same; plain booths against a white wall. I usually pass by these phones in search of a bright vibrant wall full of color, texture, or pattern, and every now and again juxtaposed with some excellent street art. My favorite pay phone has to be outside a bodega on a side street just off S. Central Ave. This pay phone is immersed in colorful graffiti, complete with gold chains and an epic lettering that looks like a fire being blown out of the booth.
When you are taking a picture of a pay phone people notice. I have had many people approach me and ask me what I'm doing. Other times people will assume they know what I'm doing and shout at me angrily, "Are you going to finally fix this phone?" and "You better not raise those rates again."
I work typical hours during the week as a freelance motion designer, so these explorations are usually done during the weekend. I usually spend a Sunday cruising around the hood with my girlfriend, and get away driver, Kimberly (instagram user @modelswithduckfaces) looking for pay phones. Kimberly, who is an agent at a modeling agency, collaborated with me on a fashion editorial shoot for Bunker Hill magazine: a winning combination of models and pay phones.
Until a few months ago all of the photos were taken with my iPhone. Now I am capturing images using a micro 4/3 camera in addition to my iPhone. I did this mainly to ensure that I would have proper resolution for print in the future. Usually, when I'm on a trip or don't have my camera I shoot using the iPhone and a bunch of apps. My favorite apps to use are VSco Cam, PhotoForge2 and PicBlender. Recently I've started exploring the pay phones of other cities including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, San Diego, and Big Sur. New York is a close second to L.A. in the number of pay phones still around, and a lot more of them are functional. A little exploration unearthed plenty of unique phones, some of the best being under ground at the subway platforms. Wanting to share the project with other people, I encourage others to post their own pay phone photos under the hashtag I created: #payphoneography.
Using this tag other people from around the world can contribute to the collection and add pay phones from their own neighborhoods. Pretty soon there were thousands of photos added, with new contributions tagged each day. Every country has their different style of booth and phones. A good portion of the pay phones I've posted have already been removed. It's interesting that sometimes only a couple days after I take a photo I'll notice it's already been removed. I'm sure the rest will disappear soon. These phones, once a necessary staple for communication has been reduced to nothing but steel stumps, empty booths, or vanished all together.
You can view the project online at http://blog.payphoneography.com/
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